Preparing for College

Can American Living/Studying Abroad Get US Federal Aid?

Question: I'm an American living abroad and thinking about applying to universities in the UK. Am I still eligible for financial aid? My parents pay US taxes.

If you are a US citizen, you can qualify for financial aid, even if you currently live outside the US and plan to also attend college outside the US. BUT ... this is assuming that your family qualifies for need-based aid in the first place. You can play around with this online Expected Family Contribution calculator to see roughly how much your family should plan to pay for your education each year:

However, the US Federal financial aid that you can receive when attending British universities will come in the form of loan (which has to be paid back) :-(. Thus it may not feel much like financial aid at all, although it could allow you to attend an institution that you might not otherwise be able to afford and which will end up being less costly than many alternatives in the US (due to the price tag overall and to the fact that your program there may be three years instead of the usual four).

Note, also, that, once you identify the universities in the UK (or elsewhere outside the US) that you want to attend, you need to check with them to make sure that your US federal assistance is good there and that your particular program of study qualifies for US Federal aid. (Most will but not all.)

Most important, note that Pell Grants cannot be used outside of the US unless you are a Pell-eligible student who attends a US college or university where your Pell grant is accepted. In this case, it's possible (although not guaranteed) that you can use your Pell funds towards a study-abroad program that is offered by your own university or by another qualifying one in the US.

If you plan to matriculate in Britain (and not via a US-based study-abroad option), your best bet for financial aid may come in the form of "Bursaries" (the British word for scholarships) that some UK schools will award to non-citizens.

Below is some additional information on attending a UK university if you are not a British citizen: Here you will find a list of British schools that offer special scholarships to international applicants, which might be helpful to you ... especially if it turns out that you DON'T qualify for US aid.

As noted above, even if you don't receive US aid, attending college outside the US can be a bargain. Tuition is often lower than it is in the US, and many foreign degree programs last only three years, not the traditional four, which means you'll save an entire year of payments. (Most US graduate schools will accept a three-year diploma that was earned abroad, but do tread cautiously because this will vary from institution to institution and even from one academic field to the next within the same institution.)

Finally, keep in mind that some overseas universities are not as familiar with the US financial aid process as domestic colleges are, so allow extra time whenever possible. You're wise to start planning now.

(posted 1/7/2012)